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Take the stress out of Thanksgiving picks

Some people fret over what wine to pour with something simple like roast chicken and salad. Imagine how much sleep they lose when they start contemplating a suitable wine for a complex meal like Thanksgiving dinner.

Roast turkey? No problem. Just about any wine, red or white, of sufficient weight will do the job. The tricky part is the side dishes, which encompass tastes from sweet to tart to savory.

I’ve experimented with Thanksgiving pairings for years, and I’ve concluded that red wine, especially pinot noir and Rhone-style wines (syrah, for example), are the most versatile matches. (Most whites are overwhelmed by Thanksgiving dinner, but if you must, look for a chardonnay with racy fruit and acidity and just enough oak to add some body).

I’m not talking about a subtle or well-aged red. Thanksgiving dinner calls for a young wine with lots of fruit and enough acid to cut the richness of the food. Steer clear of anything with too much alcohol or oak, too.

You probably will never find a wine that’s the perfect match with every dish on the table. So don’t stress about it. You can also lower the stress factor by shopping early.

Aperitif

Sparkling wine makes a wonderful aperitif. And if you choose something a little more full-bodied, like a rosé, the guests who avoid red wine can drink it throughout the meal.

Budget: The Domaine Ste. Michelle bubblies ($12, but often discounted to around $10) from Washington state are reliable choices. Although I haven’t yet tasted most of the versions that were released this fall, the brut is very well-balanced.

More expensive: The non-vintage Roederer Estate Brut Rose ($27) offers plenty of racy strawberry and lemon flavors and could hold up throughout the meal. A more delicate choice would be the nonvintage Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs ($18).

Main meal

Most of my choices here are pinot noir and Rhones, particularly syrahs and blends. You could also consider a more restrained style of zinfandel. Zin seems particularly appropriate: Although it’s not a California native, the grape has found its best expression here.

Budget: For pinot noir, look for the spicy, medium-weight 2005 Kendall-Jackson "Vintner’s Reserve" Pinot Noir ($14); the supple, bright 2005 Harlow Ridge Pinot Noir ($10); and the lively 2005 Estancia Pinnacles Ranches Pinot Noir ($15).

Inexpensive syrahs and syrah blends include the plush, fruity 2004 Concannon Stampmaker’s Syrah ($14); the well-balanced, fruit-forward 2004 J. Lohr "South Ridge" Syrah ($15); and the 2004 Bishop’s Peak Rock Solid Red ($12), which adds syrah to cabernet for a wine that’s smooth and easy to drink.

Zinfandel choices include the bright, spicy 2004 Robert Mondavi Private

Selection Zinfandel ($11); the 2004 Beringer Founders

Estate Old Vine Zinfandel ($11), with its juicy berry flavors; and the ripe 2004 Dancing Bull Zinfandel ($12).

More expensive: The choices are huge, but here are a few possibilities. Pinot lovers should look for the 2003 Paraiso Vineyards Pinot Noir ($25), a supple, well-balanced wine with juicy raspberry and strawberry flavors; the well-structured 2004 Ortman Family Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir ($30); the dark, spicy, well-priced 2005 Claiborne

& Churchill Pinot Noir ($20); and, for a big splurge, the 2004 Testarossa Cuvee Niclaire ($75), a rich, concentrated wine with bright cherry and raspberry flavors and firm tannins.

For syrah and Rhone blends, consider the 2003 Valley of the Moon Syrah ($16), with its bright blackberry fruit and hint of mint, and the 2004 Esterlina Tanian Vineyard Syrah ($28), which offers lots of bright blueberry and black raspberry. Another good choice is the 2004 Beckmen Purisima Mountain Vineyard Grenache ($36), which displays bright strawberry and raspberry and firm tannins. For a blend, try the 2004 Robert Hall Rhone de Robles ($18), which has bright berry flavors accented by hints of chocolate and roasted coffee.

Many expensive zins are simply too over-the-top to pair well with food. But some that would work with dinner (and that aren’t too extravagant) include the 2004 Girard Old Vine Zinfandel ($24), a bright, brambly wine with some nice spice; the 2004 Sobon Estate Cougar Hill Zinfandel ($16), with its bright raspberry and white pepper flavors; and the ripe yet well-balanced 2003 Hanna Zinfandel ($22).

Dessert

Late-harvest whites are your best bets with pumpkin pie.

Budget: I haven’t found anything lately that’s really inexpensive, but the 2005 Aquinas Napa Valley Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc ($15/375ml) is a lovely wine for the price, with plenty of apricot and a long finish.

More expensive: The 2002 Dolce ($80/375ml) is practically unctuous, with sweet flavors of apricot and vanilla. For less money, the 2005 King Estate Vin Glace Pinot Gris ($18/375ml) has a good balance of sweetness and acid, with flavors of apricot and tangerine. The 2005 Bonterra Bartolucci Vineyard Muscat ($16/375ml) is less sweet and quite floral.

But what about whites?

Most whites are overwhelmed by Thanksgiving dinner, but if you must, look for a chardonnay with racy fruit and acidity and just enough oak to add some body. Three modestly priced suggestions: the 2005 R Collection Chardonnay ($13), a zippy, fresh wine with just a smidgen of oak; the 2005 Meridian Chardonnay ($10), a fresh wine with apple and pear flavors; and the 2004 Solaris Chardonnay ($12), with its apple and lemon flavors, accented by judicious oak.


Laurie Daniel writes a weekly column on wine. E-mail her at ladaniel@earthlink.net.
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